Involve Young People

Build Relationships:

Communicating with young people

When involving young people, it’s good to think about your verbal and non-verbal communication with them. It’s important to be yourself – young people are good at spotting fakes – but always keep things respectful and appropriate.

Be yourself – speak as you normally would to anyone else. Though remember to keep your language appropriate and respectful. Swearing around young people is usually not appropriate. Swearing at them is never acceptable – and it’s likely to be met with a similar response!

It’s best to use simple language, but don’t think you have to ‘dumb down' your vocabulary for young people. Avoid using workplace jargon or acronyms, slang that you think young people want to hear, or words you’ve overheard young people using. And don’t try and copy young people’s accents or pronunciation – it can be pretty offensive.

Think about how the words you use might affect someone of a different background, being sensitive to race, disability, gender, or sexuality. Even if you don’t consider a term offensive, it’s possible that some young people might. Even words that are often used by youth, education or community professionals – like  ‘vulnerable’ or ‘at-risk’ – can be viewed negatively by young people (would you like to be described like that?).

Think about the tone of your voice too. Make sure you're speaking at a level where everyone can hear you. Using humour is a great way to build trust and rapport.

Body language

Keep your body language open and non-threatening. For example, keep your arms unfolded and your legs uncrossed. Avoid pointing or jabbing your finger. Smile and look around at the young people you’re talking with. Crouch down or sit so you’re on the same level, not standing over them. If sitting, lean forward to show you’re interested. Though be careful not to get too close – everyone likes some personal space!

When young people are talking, show you’re paying attention by looking at them, nodding, repeating their points back or asking questions. When you’re talking, try and engage everyone in the conversation, not just the most vocal young people. Be aware that young people from some cultural backgrounds may regard eye contact as rude, or be silent as a mark of respect. It takes time to build trust – some young people may not want to may not want to talk or share their story until they’ve met you a few times.

Be open but maintain boundaries

Being open about your own life and experiences shows young people you trust them and see them as equals. But being too open – sharing too much about yourself – can be inappropriate. It’s best to keep proper boundaries at all times – keep some parts of your personal life off-limits. Especially anything that involves alcohol, sex or drugs. 

Some young people might try and pry to test the boundaries. Smiling and telling them that their question is personal, or the topic is private, is usually enough to show they have overstepped the mark. You can also change the subject or direct the question back to them. For example, if a young person asks you something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you might reply (in a good-humoured way), “Why does that interest you? Do you think it’s important when people lose their virginity?"

Writing for a youth audience

If you’re creating a flyer, poster, report, social media post or other text aimed at young people, here are a few more tips that are good to stick to:

  • Know your audience – there’s a big difference in writing for young people in their early teens and those in their twenties. Ask a young person for help in making it relatable to the group you’re targeting.
  • Keep the language clear and simple, so it can be understood by everyone – including young people who don’t speak English as their first language. Avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Keep your message brief and get straight to the point – use dot points or short sentences. Try and use as few words as possible. Keep editing until you can edit no more!
What you can do now

Kellett, M. (2011). Engaging with Children and Young People. Centre for Children and Young People Background Briefing Series no.3., Lismore: Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University.

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